The two lanterns in the bell tower were actually not for Revere's benefit, as Longfellow's poem infers. By the time Revere left Boston, he surely knew the path the Brit Regulars would take. In fact, his most important ride had been just two days before, probably in the much less poetic daylight hours, to warn Concord of the imminent movement of the British troops.
After all, the movements of hundreds of troops in Boston preparing for a "surprise" attack could hardly be completely concealed. This advance warning enabled the citizens of Concord, which housed a repository for munitions and supplies, to secrete the arms away in barns, wells and swamps before the British arrived to confiscate them.
So the lanterns were primarily for getting the message out to the dozens of anonymous riders who waited to carry the alarm that night. And to avoid British suspicion, the lights would have only been posted in the bell tower for a minute or so. Revere probably never even saw them.
Revere and Dawes both made it to Lexington via disparate routes, Revere having narrowly escaped capture at least once. They relayed the warning to Adams and Hancock, and after midnight, decided to continue to Concord.
The two were joined by Samuel Prescott, a young doctor who was just "returning from a lady friend's house at the awkward hour of 1 a.m." Some accounts reference "the lady" as a fiancee, others say she was the wife of a tavern keeper, from whose premises the good doctor was enthusiastically removed upon his discovery.
Either way, the fates deftly employed Prescott's affairs to help promote the Patriot cause.
The three riders took off from Lexington for Concord, but within a few miles were captured by British Regulars. Prescott quickly executed his second escape of the evening, and was the only one to bring the warnings to Concord that fateful night. Dawes escaped but fell off his horse and was unable to continue his ride. Revere was detained and interrogated at length, but was released barely in time to see the opening shots of the Revolution.
As a spunky suffragette, my grandmother would have welcomed the more feminist story of another Revolutionary rider sometimes called the "female Paul Revere."
Sybil Ludington was from New York's Duchess County, where the other side of my family hails from. She was younger and braver, but much less famous than Paul Revere. And unlike Revere, she did not have the support of other riders.
In 1777, her courageous midnight ride may have single-handedly changed the course of American history.
So in the spirit of equal rights, on the day associated with the mythology of Revere's ride, I offer this historically accurate account of the bravery of a remarkable teenaged heroine.
Sybil Ludington statue by Anna Hyatt Huntington
(Image by Original photo from the wiki) Permission Details DMCA
The Midnight Ride of Sybil Ludington
by Meryl Ann Butler